Cantwell adviser fights to keep divorce documents sealed
The Associated Press
A longtime friend and adviser to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is fighting the unsealing of his divorce case to hide his "bad behavior and possible illegal actions," his ex-wife has alleged in a court filing.
Angela Douglas, the former wife of lobbyist Ron Dotzauer, also suggested that the improper sealing of the case in 1994 "led to improper practices that would not have otherwise occurred." Her declaration was filed last week and provided to reporters after a Snohomish County Superior Court hearing Tuesday.
"I believe Ron is trying ... to prevent public disclosure of incidents of his poor judgment, bad behavior and possible illegal actions," Douglas said in the filing.
Cynthia First, Dotzauer's current wife and attorney, said in court that her husband wants the file to remain largely sealed to protect his 16-year-old daughter.
"There is trash in this file that is no one's business but the Dotzauers'," First said.
Reporters have been seeking access to the Dotzauer divorce file since last month in an effort to understand why Cantwell gave him a loan — between $15,000 and $50,000, according to her public-disclosure statements — in 1999 or 2000.
Neither Cantwell nor Dotzauer, who are longtime friends and dated in the mid-1980s, will speak about the transaction, and Douglas said in an interview Tuesday that she does not know why Cantwell gave her ex-husband the money. When Dotzauer worked on Cantwell's 2000 Senate campaign, he was paid $22,000 a month, Douglas said. And when Douglas tried to garnish his wages for failure to pay court-ordered obligations, Cantwell's campaign refused, Douglas said.
Cantwell's press secretary did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Dotzauer was repeatedly held in contempt for failure to pay court-ordered obligations to Douglas and was jailed for one day in 1996. Documents in King County Superior Court indicate Douglas won a May 1998 judgment against Dotzauer, which, combined with interest and penalties, totaled $94,530. Dotzauer eventually paid up.
Asked to elaborate on her accusation that Dotzauer is trying to keep the case sealed to hide "possible illegal actions," Douglas suggested he might be trying to hide details of the loan. She also suggested Dotzauer is trying to hide reimbursements or payments he received from his lobbying firm, Northwest Strategies Inc., for political contributions. Federal law prohibits companies from giving money to individuals to route to political candidates.
Though the entire case file is sealed, it was briefly unsealed last month at the request of a conservative blogger, Stefan Sharkansky, who photocopied and posted several documents on his www.soundpolitics.com Web site. The court quickly resealed the file, but among the documents posted was a trial brief filed by Dotzauer's attorney at the time, who wrote the following about Dotzauer's income:
"The nature of Mr. Dotzauer's business necessitates making more political contributions than in other businesses. At the federal level there are restrictions on corporate contributions. Personal contributions are more effective. To meet this demand, [Northwest Strategies] pays to Mr. Dotzauer an additional sum each month for purposes of making such contributions. While this is income to Mr. Dotzauer, in reality this is a necessary business expense."
For example, the trial brief said, in April 1994, Dotzauer's company paid him $19,151, plus $3,000 to direct toward political contributions.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne has said that the 1994 order sealing the divorce file was overly broad and improper. At a hearing Tuesday, he began sifting through the file to determine which documents should be unsealed.
Following the hearing, Dotzauer, First and Dotzauer's other attorney, Camden Hall, were asked about the case and the loan.
"I don't know that you're accurate in using that word, 'loan,' " Hall told a reporter. He declined to elaborate.
First refused to answer questions about the money, first suggesting she didn't know what a reporter was talking about, and then adding: "Ask Sen. Cantwell. We didn't list it. She did."
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